META: Neanderthal attitudes

Chris Fedeli (
Sat, 4 Sep 1999 14:25:17 -0400

Matt Gingell wrote:

>A few years ago there was some football announcer
>– I don’t remember the details, but maybe someone
>else does –

yep, Jimmy the Greek. He was secretly videotaped at a restaurant by a black reporter who was sitting nearby and happened to overhear his comments.

>who lost his job for suggesting that American blacks
>were inherently better athletes than whites because,
>back in the day, they’d been bred for strength by
>slave owners.


>It makes me cringe to think about it, and my fingers
>tremble as I type the words, but maybe there’s
>something to it. So what though? It isn’t just a scientific
>point, and I really hope most of you are uncomfortable
>with the suggestion. [snip]

>**[Y]ou can’t separate science from its social
>consequences.** (emphasis mine)

This is the point I was trying to make earlier but Matt does a much better job of it. We have to be cognizant of the fact that, even though the bulk of us on this list love discussing truth and science as a purely mandarin pursuit, our often free-wheeling discussions about genetic sex differences GIVE THE APPEARENCE that we really aren't concerned with any of the social implications that this science has for women's treatment in society. At least that seems to be the opinion of some of the women who have left in the past year.

Of course I know that this appearance isn't true - extropians generally do care about equal rights for women in society. But in initially representing ourselves to others, particularly to new prospects, appearances are the only thing that matters. Since one of the purposes of this mailing list is to give all new comers a chance to see what we're about, we should be particularly concerned about appearances that tend to alienate large chunks of the general population.

>How big a step is it from ‘Blacks are better
>athletes’ to ‘Blacks are less intelligent:

and the same applies to our often dubious characterizations of all the evolutionary psychology research into sex differences, most of which is very good science that can easily be taken out of context.

A word about this: evolutionary psychologists tend to be very careful to warn against any direct applications of their science to characterizations of twentieth century men and women. While for obvious reasons the bulk of their research happens to be done on twentieth century men and women, they are only looking for the vestigal remains of adapted traits that were acquired in our species' environment of evolutionary adaptation. For instance, by studying which kind of male face appears most attractive to women during ovulation, they make backwards inferences to guess at what evolutionary adaption might have caused such empirical findings.

Most evolutionary psychologists pay little attention to the role of CULTURE, a specific and unique subset of the modern human environment. The good ones admit that they don't have a very solid understanding of exactly how culture interacts with genetic traits to alter phenotypic expressions of behavior, and nor do they much care - their science aims only to determine the genetic characteristics that governed human behavior in the e.e.a.. They seem happy to leave the far messier subject of the role of culture to tomorrow's science of memetics, if there should ever be such a science.

So when evolutionary psychologists speak of sex differences, they are speaking of genetic differences that evolved in males and females. They are not speaking of GENDER differences, or the behavioral differences between men and women in modern, civilized societies. Animals don't have genders, only the sexes of male and female. Of course, no one would claim that modern human genders aren't at least partially determined by biology, but the extent and pervasiveness of that relationship is poorly understood due to our limited scientific knowledge of the phenomena of culture.

>These are dangerous issues and there’s
>much more too it than just the science. Good
>science gets mapped onto political philosophy
>with horrible consequences, and very
>reasonable arguments are used to advance
>very unreasonable agendas.

It is perhaps the easiest, most facile criticism of extropianism to claim that our optimism about science has made us blind to history.

As a collection of autodidacts and polymaths, it is inevitable that occasionally we will wander into a scientific discussion about one of these politically sensitive issues. As long our discussions reflect an awareness of this sensitivity, we will eventually prove the critics wrong.